What is the synaptic fluid of social business?

Today, questions about the nature of human connectivity are becoming central of what constitutes and creates personal, commercial and social value in the digital economy. How will leaders connect with stakeholders in order to be able to do their jobs, and what are the appropriate business models with which to develop connectivity to build digital businesses?

Many organizations are yet to integrate the benefits of network effects fully into their business models and, as I watched discussions on social media at Davos last week from the comfort of my own desk, what I observed was a group of decision-makers  becoming increasingly aware of the impact it’s going to have. For the first time, there was the realisation that when they make their decisions there may be, at least metaphorically, other people in the room. Digital business is ushering in a shift, going from messages to experiences.

So, C level curiosity around the subject has been aroused, and is becoming palpable, but whether it’s a pandora’s box or a burning platform is for many unidentified and uncertain. The tremors around what may be a new world order that are equally evident.

Don Tapscott mentioned in the Davos session that ‘companies have to undress for success’, that the ethics matter as much as the technology. Blatant integrity is a phrase we use here at Visceral Business in which a digital footprint that is accountable might be better, more nuanced and more appropriate route to value in a networked era.

From ‘Veni vidi vici’, Julius Ceasar and the first days of empire, we now have ‘ipod, iphone, ipad’. This is the liberation of the individual through gadgetry, and how business will evolve to meet the demands of a wired up generation will be an iterative process.

Carver Mead, a leading computer scientist at the California Institute of Technology, once said, “Listen to the technology; find out what it’s telling you.” Biz Stone has said the same thing about Twitter. At a NESTA session in December, Biz talked about how he’s spent the last two years listening to Twitter, telling him what it wants to be.

Technology is a finite game that will ultimately solve all the problems it’s capable of addressing, as Jaron Larnier has written and spoken about lately. What’s a more infinite game are the opportunities of human connectivity and all the shades of creation possible to conceive collectively.

A very modern form of disenfranchisement, being denied a networked identity or ‘no platforming’, may become an ultimate social sanction in the next century. Banishment from the cloud may have the same tarnish as the casting out of convicts to far-flung reaches two hundred years ago.

Chris Brogan’s ‘The Third Tribe’ community launched this week. The subscription price doesn’t create a community, it creates a service, and with that comes a different kind of ambience. My friend Ed Brenegar’s put it like this ‘popularity in a free environment does not necessarily equate to value in a paid one’.

As Davos may be discussing however, one way or another social connectivity means that the cost equations have changed. Purchase and purpose are more closely related, and investment might take many forms and come in many currencies – time given, attention focused, and contributions made digitally, as well as cold, hard, and more orthodox cash.

There are causes today that are redefining what participation in not-for-profit initiatives can mean and what it’s capable of achieving. There are communities worth investing in heavily simply because of the quality of the leadership and freedom of connection. The currency of trust is also gaining ground as the synaptic fluid of social business.

For anyone interested in the monetary value of social connectivity, it’s in value delivery, knowing the limits of gatekeeping, of brokerage and how service and facilitation which is free plays a part in delivering sustainable value.

There are a number of industries looking at digital business as an important item on the corporate agenda. Together with public service management looking to adapt in face of budget cutbacks, and healthcare developing insights in new ways to make R&D cheaper, they all represent areas of our economy that will benefit from streamlining. Digital business thinking can remove overhead, social and digital networks can reduce dependencies on pump-primed marketing and advertising that is expensive and difficult to sustain as an activity.

The old business models are yielding fewer returns. As an antidote to the velocity of today’s overloaded information flows, generative listening and developing the action potential of committed, visceral and trustworthy human relationships lies at the heart of the social connections. It has never been more important. It’s the synaptic fluid of social business.

  • mcshawn

    Excellent summary Anne. I couldn't agree more with the line “In that context I think Chris Brogan, as a Trust Agent and because his stock in trade is his humanity, has erred.”

  • edbrenegar

    It is easy to say the world has changed. It has. It is a very different thing to understand what it has changed into. What you are pointing to and what I think I'm seeing isn't just some tweaking of the norms that we've all known. I'm convinced that it is a change that is on a par with the discovery of fire, the wheel and the hierarchical bureaucratic organizational structure.

    What is emerging is a demand that we are all participators and contributors, not simply role players and place holders in a system. And that we are doing this in a wide variety of settings in order to learn, grow and maximize the impact that we can have.

    The question remains, how does one make a living doing this? Part of the picture that I see is that our relationship need to be centered in a set of values that drive our involvement with one another. As it does, our relationship transcends what can I sell you to what can we achieve together? Within that context comes opportunities to provide products and services for sale that address specific needs where we have expertise. But the transactional nature of that exchange is not the center of the relationship, a greater vision for shared impact is.

    Lastly, I'd say it all begins with a relationship. Which means that if we are not involved in a variety of social networks that we are not going to be able to compete in the world that is being created as we live and breath today. Presently, the standards for most of these networks is fluid and poorly conceived, but that will not last long.

  • Anne

    Ed, and Shawn, thanks for commenting.

    Ed, the point you make about involvement resonates, it's contribution we're talking about in a post-capitalist form, and the quality of relationship that's going to power the changes we're making. The economics have to catch up with this. There's some interesting business models emerging, their real life applications are going to determine the answer.

  • Anne, thank you for this thought-provoking post. I started out thinking, “Wait Anne, you're wrong…” but now I'm not as sure. I'm still batting your ideas around which is a sure sign that there's a rich dialogue here.

    Is Chris in the wrong for trying to leverage a business from his own ideas and thinking? No…we all do it which is why there are more of us consultants than you can shake a stick at. But, placing it in a construct of disenfranchisement is interesting. If individuals with prominence and status begin to sequester their knowledge and encourage others to only contribute knowledge behind this wall, then there will be many left out in the cold.

    However, I'm also reminded of how professional societies work (at least here in the U.S.). Much of their expertise and knowledge is maintained behind the wall of paid membership. Would we not call such societies communities, though? I believe they do have a right to be considered a community. The question is whether this approach to walling off professional expertise will continue to be a workable model for nonprofit associations in the future.

    And as for Chris…unfortunately, what he may be coming to find is that by publishing a book with “Trust” in its title, his actions and words are going to be scrutinized much, much more. Even if he doesn't intend to act in ways that people feel are distrustful, he'll need to recognize the impact. We're all more attuned to not getting taken in by scoundrels and even though Chris isn't one he's put himself in a dicey situation.

    • Anne

      Hey Chris, I appreciate your feedback. Just to be clear here, this is a thorny subject, no doubt about it, and the point I'm trying to make making isn't about whether or not it's ok to make money, (because it is), just that we have to be very careful about not using 'pay to play' to create iterations of empire in a new clothing.

      Seth Godin's tribe has worked for 18 months now because it doesn't charge for belonging. Therefore people do support it, feel they belong, that's the paradox. The price of entry is passion, which makes money in other ways. The point of social and human business is this shift to me, the opportunity that's emerging within the contribution economy and a prize worth going for.

      Marketing for money upfront whilst talking about a rich generative community experience means a different kind of investment is actually being made. It may lead to a desire to get something out of a community more than encouraging creative, collaborative contribution.

      We owe it to ourselves to ask how that serves what we're trying to promote as social business. The take-out is that marketing now has to be highly nuanced. The relationships we have are quite rightly delicate; and have to be treated as such, in my opinion.

      • “Marketing for money upfront whilst talking about a rich generative community experience means a different kind of investment is actually being made. It can lead to a desire to get something out of the community more than encouraging creative, collaborative contribution.”

        If I understand your concern correctly, you fear that Brogan and co promise something which is impossible to deliver upon, namely the value of a network which is intrinsically based on relationships. Or, after looking at the Universe, he's selling the promise of a new one even before he's created one. And in doing so others might follow even before Brogan's business model has proven valid, creating 'black holes' into the informationsphere with all bright internetstars locking themselves in in lucrative new micro-universes.

        I'm making it grotesker than it is for the sake of clarification. But I'm kind of lost about the point of what you're pointing out here. I know it's tempting to say: 'Well isn't that obvious?' and leave it at that. But I don't believe it is obvious and it maybe valuable when it is clarified.

        • Anne

          Hi Hannes, the way I see it is the strength of a community, especially today, comes from its network and its culture, not just from the leaders. That's an important shift if social networking is to mean anything. It doesn't follow then to make the ethos of community (with all its connotations of digital inclusion) part of the pitch for a next generation, human business proposition like The Third Tribe, but in reality promote a pitch about sales and content only from leaders.

          There is an incongruity in this and tricky issues of trust. And if this is a proposed business model for others to follow then it does little to advance the idea of communities of interest as anything other than another form of ownership.

          As the connected web develops this has quite significant implications, and the people who are social leaders do have a responsibility to consider this. Human growth, generative, iterative relationships and formative learning experiences go beyond the consumption of content in this form.

          Also, this strikes me as another form of old fashioned 'schooling', and divisions around what is and isn't human business via this model reinforces a disconnected society, not a connected one. Hence the 'dark ages' comments that Stowe has made.

          As I said in my response to John below, this isn't the way I'd suggest going if the strength of the network is what one wants to realize. As a marketer, I'd say there are nuances around the business model to fix for this proposition to be true to the Chris Brogan brand as we know it (I can't speak for the others as I don't know them).

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  • I think the thing that bothers me most about this thinking is to assume Brogan's Tribe is a pure pay to play cash in of some sort. I know you've suggested you're not against people making money, but that may not even be what this is about. Have you ever considered that the project was actually developed for a community that wanted it very badly.

    There are several very large flaws in the free model – first off, as Seth is fond of saying, it scales to infinity. I've personally witnessed Chris make significant contributions to this social ideal at great cost, including spending way too much time away from his family. If he's erred it's that he's given too much away.

    I would argue that subscription certainly can create community (I say can, because execution is what usually makes a community click or not.) The kind of community it can create is one that's invested, accountable, involved and there for a specific reason. What I've seen in free models is that anyone can show up, spout their views on generative listening as the antidote to the velocity of today

    • Anne

      Hi John, first off, thanks for commenting, I really respect your work. Let me clarify my point of view. Seth said quite a while back there are two things that are important about a community – who else is going to be there, and who is going to lead it. With four leaders it can make things a little messy, and this community model is based on sight unseen.

      Despite you saying it's only an assumption, a monthly (and increasing) subscription fee was the message upfront, with a 'buy now and you get it cheaper' message, and fees attract takers. It's a different kind of investment. Those aspects trouble me about this particular model. I hope however those that do join have a really fantastic experience and that the community endures for as long as Seth's has.

      Chris has put in the hours more than most, I agree he deserves success. Many people have very tight tribes who've created strong communities and incomes and done so with integrity, and that's not an issue. As I said I question business model because I think it needs tweaking, for the reasons I've explained. It's a personal view, but I've bumped up against the opening pages three times and just haven't been able to let myself sign up and that can't be a good thing, and I know I'm not alone.

      You mentioned generative listening so let me ask you, isn't this a perfect time to be listening to what's below the water line? And isn't it ok to ask a few questions in pursuit of a better product? Because if that's not what human business is about then I'm not sure what is. It's just as important to be able to buy into the expertise of the network and the caliber of the company one's in as the leaders, at least if the potential value of the network is something one wants to realize.

    • Privacy is another thing to factor into the equation.

      While I'm not part of CB's community, I am a member of private offline business groups. There are things I prefer to discuss with this circle of friends. Not everything has to be for the public consumption.

      • Anne

        Agree Ivan, as mentioned in the post.

        I believe that 'blatant integrity' is a probably better, more nuanced and more appropriate, than open, and for the reasons you mention.

        Stowe Boyd's done a good of summarizing the essential points here. http://www.stoweboyd.com/message/anne-mccrossan

        • Thanks Anne.

          I think what upset some people was how TT was launched.


  • Hey Ann,

    i commend you for taking such a strong stand. It's a hot topic, and I certainly don't want to make it seem like Chris is the bad guy here. It was a collective effort launched long with 3 other people so I don't want to make Chris the poster boy for my concerns.

    But I was disappointed with the launch. Not because it was a paid service (because as John said above, the freeium model is ripe with it's own shortcomings; namely providing a forum for internet jaskasses to spout off with zero accountability) but rather in how it was promoted.

    I was disappointed that they chose to use the scarcity model to encourage people to sign up. Don't get me wrong, everyone uses it and I get the psychology behind it, but aren't you playing us if you are using that technique.

    I mean if it is the great service you say it is then give me a price and let me decide if want to sign up or not. Don't play me with the psych-babble that we all know entices people to sign up quick. It just seems so cheesy to me. It reminds me of those goofy infomercials back in the 80's with Tom Vu on his yacht with 7 or 8 bikini-clad women selling his ?? (I don't even know what he is selling)

    And hell if you decide 3 months from now to raise the price for new subscribers i say HELL YEAH!

    I just failed to see how that launch was consistent with any of the messages that I know all 4 of those individuals practice regularly (this is not btw condemning their character…just the techniques used to launch this service.).

    I believe you read and commented on a similar comment I made on Rex's triiibes blog, but I find someone like Chris Guillebeau to be very consistent with the message preaches. “Here is my shit, here is what it costs. Buy it if you like, if not, don't sweat it as I have lots of free stuff to give you.”

    I thought that would have been the approach taken on that launch, but it wasn't.

    Perhaps it was a mistake in marketing, perhaps not (again as John said…perhaps this was being begged for by their troops), I just know that such things raise red flags and that maybe, just maybe the message and the character don't match. Time will tell.


    • Anne

      Dean, thanks for commenting. There's a great rush of hyperactivity around on the web, and a number of people at the moment who have been disenfranchised by the system who are trying to find 'the answer'; looking for solutions to which people can sign up to be social.

      But the real test of any community is how long people stay the course because the involvement is meaningful. And if money is the currency that's involved my question is how can that engender contribution, generate new forms of value, create essentially more human business. At that level I share your concerns about congruence.

      Can paid subscription power that? Well I don't know. But collectively those interested in what social business represents have talked for a long time about this as being a shift from transactions to relationships, or at least a re-balancing. This is an important thing for us to grasp and develop now because if we don't what we essentially get is old empires in new clothes, and a massive lost opportunity.

      • Hi Anne & All,

        First time to this site and learnt much from your views/perspectives…and would like to share some thoughts as a newbie to web 2.0…hope i won't drift too far from the points of your discussion…

        I was confused by all these relationship marketing stuff quite a while ago…as traditional wisdom goes, the relationships you built in business dealings have better chance to turn into lasting personal relationships, while building business based on personal relationships often end up ruining your personal relationships…

        …so why all these talks about businesses built on true relationships? Anyway relationship marketing is abt marketing but not relationship right?

        …then much contemplation…zzz…

        At this point, my guess is, the best practice is not to have a business relationship with your community. However that doesn't mean there shouldn't be any money or material elements involved. It can be voluntary sponsorships, for instance.

        You don't create premium content and promote them, you don't sell and you certainly don't do any pricing. Although you may create easy and convenient and even remarkable-experience-creating ways for people who care and want to give back so they can support your work. As mentioned above hard cold cash is not the only currency available anymore…

        The key is, you don't sell. Your friends have full control & initiative over what they want to do (and in what form) with their hard-earned currencies for you.

        Say if you pay Van Gough for his painting (or organize an exhibition), you don't really want his painting, you don't care whether it's in his studio or your living room or public space. You love him, you respect him, you see him making the world a better place everyday and you just want to make sure he can afford to continue doing so.

        It involves money but it's not a buy-sell relationship. It's friends being generous to each other.

        People can see your generosity. People want to give back. People want to be part of a sincere effort to change the world. And people will pay for what you give them for free simply to support your work, or for extra copies/experiences as gifts to their loved ones…

        …well is it too idealistic? … …